Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Debt office uses wider net to scoop up $58m

Millions of dollars have been stripped from the wages or bank accounts of people with outstanding fines under new rules aimed at reducing the huge number of unpaid penalties in NSW.

The State Debt Recovery Office has targeted the wages or bank accounts of 5200 people to collect outstanding fines for traffic or parking offences, fare evasion, failing to vote and court fees.

Overall, in the past seven months, the office has collected $58 million in outstanding penalties via wage and bank deductions or other means.

But despite that, the total of outstanding fines rose to $498 million in December - up from $460million in June 2001.

Rules introduced by the State Government last June allow the office to deduct fines from wages or bank accounts, levy charges on land titles, summons people to explain their financial situation and force them to perform community service.

The rules were put in place after the Auditor-General revealed last April how many fines were outstanding and criticised the office for not using all its powers to collect them.

Every day, the office receives about 3000 new fines to collect, suspends 325 licences, cancels 95 car registrations and imposes penalties on 86 business fleets.

Since the office was set up in 1998, it has collected $346 million in fines. It expects to collect nearly $100 million this financial year. More than one-third of outstanding fines were levied before 1998 and some fines date back 20 years.

The office has not even started processing fines from the Licensing Court, whose annual report reveals that no unpaid fines and penalties have been collected for six years because of delays to an upgrade of its computer system. At least $1.6 million in court charges are outstanding, along with $2.9 million in uncollected licence fees and poker machine taxes.

A spokesman for Treasurer, Michael Egan, said the debt office was concentrating on "the big line items" but was working on the "somewhat minuscule" problem at the Licensing Court.

The Audit Office said about $334 million in fines was "unlikely to be recovered", but the Government says it does not write off any fines. It cost $12 million to collect $90million in fines in the 2000-01 financial year.

Fine defaulters can arrange to pay in instalments or have their fines deferred because of long-term medical problems.

By Whose Bank 21 January 03

THE MULE: Withdraw your money? Quick!


Robin Egan
Two thirds of fines are never collected because they go beyond the means of the defendants and because in lots of cases people do not see that they are responsible. Especially where people know their in the right and no fine ought to have been a penalty.